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How Sony Pictures Animation Leads the Way in Unique Art Styles



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Sony Pictures Animation has had a pretty checkered past, with critical reception to their films ranging from wild lows to the mid-tier to impressive heights. Recently, however, the studio seems to be hitting a pretty stable stride regarding animation variety. It’s something other Western animation studios could learn from.

Sony Pictures Animation feels like a place willing to let creative minds celebrate art for art’s sake, to have more room for fun and freedom. Audiences have certainly received endless entertainment from their recent projects. Many animators and artists out there would love their own shot at making something memorable, fresh, and fun for us to fall in love with. Sony has shown us what happens when that freedom is given — we wind up with unique, visually spectacular, and emotionally heartfelt roller coaster rides. It’s time for more Western studios to follow this direction and let their artists go a little wild.

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While attention may be turned to their more recent releases, Sony Animation has always dabbled in different art styles. Not all of their projects could be deemed successful – take, for instance, The Smurfs or any of the Open Season films. Still, it remains admirable how much they’ve experimented over the years. This experimentation begins at the conceptual phase. If we take the 2021 film The Mitchells vs. the Machines as an example, looking through concept art detailing its creation shows how much the 2D designs contributed to the film’s stylization.

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Cartoonish drawings of Katie Mitchell and her family weren’t left to the drawing board. They were translated into a 3D space. Meanwhile, those 2D drawings make appearances through Katie’s colorful film editing. This is what gave The Mitchells vs. the Machines such a distinctive and fun feeling.

A similar case can be made for 2018’s popular Into the Spider-Verse, and even going as far back as 2006’s Open Season, Sony Animation’s debut feature film. Each Sony Animation film mentioned so far has a unique style that sets them apart from one another, adding variety to Sony’s library, even if the movies aren’t necessarily “good.”

On the flip side of variety, we have art style uniformity, where films may tackle different concepts and plot lines but have a similar look. The most prolific adherent to this in the Western animation scene would be Walt Disney Studios, whose art style we’d probably be able to point out from a group: the gigantic eyes, the rounded facial features, soft lighting, and fluid movements. This is as much a marketing tool as it is an identifying mark: see the art style, and you know who created it without needing the Disney name.